To Your Scattered Bodies Go
To Your Scattered Bodies Go is a science fiction novel by Philip José Farmer published in June 1971 as the first novel in the Riverworld series. The book is based on two earlier novellas written by Farmer in the 1960s: Day of the Great Shout and The Suicide Express. The book's sequel is The Fabulous Riverboat.
In the story, every person who has ever lived on Earth, from prehistoric times to the 21st century, has been resurrected on a strange world consisting of a nearly-endless river valley. Everyone is resurrected with bodies when they were around 25-years-old, in perfect health, and with perpetual youth. Although food is dispersed frequently at various points around the river valley, there are almost no animals or insects, only plants. Without any means of obtaining natural resources, the people live as primitives, but they still have all of the memories and skills of their former selves. The book follows two real people — British adventurer Richard Francis Burton and Alice Hargreaves (of Alice in Wonderland fame) — and several fictional characters — Peter Jairus Frigate, a Neanderthal, and an alien from Tau Ceti — as they try to understand the world they've been resurrected into, how they got there, who put them there, and why. Unfortunately, while their band is civilized, many of the people around them are not.
My friend Kelley let me borrow her copy of The Fabulous Riverboat. I was a bit apprehensive about reading a later book in a series without reading the predecessors, but she assured me it could stand on its own. I enjoyed the book, but didn't make any attempt to read this book. Years later, after finding a collection of science fiction audio books, I was interested in this book's title and looked it up and was pleased to see it was the first book in the series. After I finished several other books I wanted to read, I finally started listening to it. I finished it on 2021-07-19.
I don't own this book. I listened to the audio book read by Paul Hecht.
- The world is indeed creative, and, by including everyone who has ever lived, Farmer gives himself a massive body of pre-made characters to work with. I also liked his choice of real-world characters. The interplay between Richard Francis Burton and Hermann Göring was especially interesting.
- The setting is very mysterious. Information about how the people got there and why they're there, is slowly introduced, but lots of red herrings are thrown into the mix. Why do the "gods" of Riverworld seem to be 20th century Americans, but also hyper-advanced aliens? Why does there appear to be a renegade who is trying to destroy it from the inside? If they have such amazing technology, and are so "ethical," why did they create what is essentially a prison for all of humankind?
- I like how all the religious people are totally messed up when they realize they haven't gone to their particular idea of heaven, and that, even after their religion is proven false, many keep believing while others start new religions to worship new gods.
- Although the main party is focused on white European men, I do appreciate that Farmer depicts many different races and nationalities throughout history.
- The book is a bro-fest. The protagonist is male, all but one of the ancillary characters are male (Alice), much of the book is seen through a male sexual lens, and most of the other women exist solely to be the sexual mates of the men, with no personality of their own.
- By using historical figures and having them reach the same status as they did in real life, Farmer ignores the fact that many people reach their status, not by talent or perseverance, but simply by being born into a wealthy family or getting a wealthy sponsor in youth. Since that wouldn't happen the same way in Riverworld, and people lose all their possessions and status with each death, it's unlikely that many people who were famous in our world would also become famous in Riverworld.
- I felt like Monat Grrautut's story, the death of a large percentage of earthlings, wasn't really explained well or fleshed out.
- Farmer's futurism missed the boat a couple times in his descriptions of what Earth culture and technology would be like in the early 2000s. His history wasn't much better describing titanically large cave men who never actually existed.
- It's probably just as unlikely the inhabitants of Riverworld would learn Esperanto as people on Earth do, i.e., not very likely.
- The description of women's hymens being "regrown" perpetuates ignorance of female anatomy.
- Nearly all of the women in the book, children included, are raped. I understand that this probably would happen in the mostly lawless society of Riverworld, but it's still awful.